How the Second Amendment Works


What Is the Future of the Second Amendment?
Students hold up their hands while taking part in National School Walkout Day to protest school violence on April 20, 2018 in Chicago. The rally was held on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. Jim Young/Getty Images

Justice Stevens' startling advocacy of repealing the Second Amendment provided ammunition to gun rights supporters such as President Trump, who in a February 2018 speech at CPAC claimed that if his Democratic opponents gained control of Congress in the 2018 midterm elections, "they'll take away your Second Amendment" [source: Cillizza].

In truth, there's been no indication that Democratic politicians are considering such a move. The party's 2016 platform did call for measures such as expanding background checks for gun purchases, but it also stated that "we can respect the rights of responsible gun owners while keeping our communities safe."

And political rhetoric aside, it seems unlikely that the Second Amendment will ever be repealed. For one thing, it's complicated and difficult to take something out of the Constitution. Such a move first would have to be approved by two-thirds of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, and then by 38 of the nation's 50 state legislatures.

From 1789 through 2016, an estimated 11,699 changes to the Constitution were proposed in Congress, but only one amendment has ever been repealed — the 18th Amendment imposing Prohibition, which was enacted in 1919 and subsequently repealed in 1933 by ratification of the 21st Amendment [source: Bomboy].

And unlike the repeal of Prohibition, which was widely supported by the public, most Americans don't want to repeal the Second Amendment. A February 2018 Economist/YouGov poll, for example, found that only 21 percent of Americans favored repeal. In contrast, 60 percent of the public opposed removing the amendment [source: Economist/YouGov].

But while a strong majority of Americans want the right to bear arms to continue to be enshrined in the Constitution, the Economist/YouGov poll found that nearly half — 46 percent — favored the idea of modifying it to allow stricter regulation of guns, versus 39 percent who want it to stay unchanged [source: Economist/YouGov].

It's unclear, though, how the Second Amendment could be revised without going through the arduous process of passing another constitutional amendment. That means that, for the foreseeable future at least, the Second Amendment probably will remain as it is now, and it'll be up to the Supreme Court to decide what the right to bear arms actually means.

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